Tag Archives: disabled women

Austerity puts disabled women at greater risk of domestic violence

Austerity puts disabled women at greater risk of domestic violence

This is first posted on the  Sisters Uncut  blog.

Disabled women are 2-3 times more likely to experience domestic violence, but have greater barriers to accessing services. Often they are not believed or their experiences as disabled women are not understood. Perpetrators exploit disabled women by financially abusing them, isolating them from friends and family, withholding vital care or medication, and using​ their​ impairments ​to apply the form of ​​abuse

Austerity has robbed disabled women of independ​ent living​ in a number of ways. The closure of the independent living fund, the introduction of ESA and the inappropriate work capability assessment, the change to PIP and​ Motability (for adapted vehicles) as there is an arbitrary change to mobility eligibility.

This is a systematic erosion of disabled people’s rights. An erosion so grave the UN is investigating.

Women are told they ​have to use nappies inspite of not being incontinent. Never mind the indignity. Never mind the health risk from sores, a risk that is not needed. Children are removed from disabled mothers as social services deem them not to be capable of parenthood. Disabled ​w​omen wait in fear of the arbitrary sanctions from job centre and DWP letters informing them they no longer meet criteria for benefits.

This all feeds into vulnerability, isolation and dependency on​ possibly​ abusive partners.

The decimation of disabled people’s rights and independence, through the systematic removal of social security has had one particularly significant effect: disabled women are left at greater risk of domestic violence.

When it comes to state support for disabled women, social security is no ‘benefit’. In a world which denies disabled people access to education, employment, family life and public spaces this money is a small recognition of the barriers faced.

Disabled women experience a compound oppression. As at the same time their risk of violence increases, funding to domestic violence​ aid​ services is falling. This is despite an evidence need for MORE funding to ensure they are accessible and responsive to all disabled women . We need more specialist services and accessible helplines and information.

Without this ​support​ and funding, disabled women lose their​ ​independentt living​, their social circles, ​civil rights, choice and control. Isolation, dependence and vulnerability are ​exacerbated​ by austerity.

Austerity sets up the conditions where disabled women are ​more than ​2-3 time​s likely to experience domestic violence.



Disabled women at Feminism in London 2015

Disabled women at Feminism in London 2015

We were asked to organise a disabled women’s panel at this year’s Feminism in London Conference in October.

A big thank you to Lisa-Marie Taylor, FIL’s organiser, for inviting us!

We did some publicity by having a stall and we ‘re grateful to Annabel, Zara, Jacqueline and Sophie for helping us with the stall!

(Click on photos to get a bigger photo)

Real Media came to do do a short video feature on it – many thanks!

transcript FIL SOF panel (Word doc)

Frances Ryan also wrote a piece for the Guardian on the event A Disabled Woman’s struggle is any woman’s struggle

Obi was kind enough to video the whole event – if you wish to follow it in its entirety


great additions from Nidhi Goyal and Asha Hans Part 1


with Q&A from audience

Individual videos

Asha Hans video

TRANSCRIPT Asha Hans (Word doc)

Nidhi Goyal’s video

TRANSCRIPT Nidhi Goyal (Word doc)

Frances Ryan’s video

TRANSCRIPT Frances Ryan (Word doc)

Becky Olaniyi s video

TRANSCRIPT Becky Olaniyi  (Word doc)

Rebecca Bunce’s video

TRANSCRIPT Rebecca Bunce (Word doc)

Kirsten Hearn’s video

TRANSCRIPT Kirsten Hearn (Word doc)

Thank you all for having taken part in the event!

Violence Against Disabled Women – an European report

Violence Against Disabled Women – an European report

While we were at the Screening AccSex event at Leeds University, Sarah Woodin presented the findings of their report Access to Specialised Victim Support Services for Women with Disabilities who have experienced Violence which included guidance from Ruth Bashall and Susie Balderston.



This research is investigating violence against disabled women and their access to specialised women’s support services. Funded through the European Commission’s Daphne III programme and with international leadership from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, the project is running from 2013 to 2015 in four countries:

About the research

There are several elements, which include:

  1. Assessment of  the legal and policy framework
  2. Generation of extensive new data from disabled or Deaf women (through focus group discussions, in-depth-interviews) and service providers (online-survey, interviews with staff members), and
  3. Development of good practice examples and recommendations.  

187 disabled women from the four countries took part (106 women in focus groups and 81 women in individual interviews). They included women with mobility or sensory impairments, women with intellectual impairments, women with mental health conditions and women with multiple impairments. Specialised service providers assisting women who have experienced violence also took part in this study (there were in total 602 responses to an online survey and 54 individual interviews with representatives from services). However, the numbers are only provided here as an indication of the scale of the research. The focus was on exploring barriers and issues in depth rather than on recruiting statistically representative samples.

The Problem of Violence against Disabled Women

Disabled women experience a very wide range of types of violence. They report the same types of violence as non-disabled women, but also abuse that is specific to disabled people, and that takes place in a wider range of places and is enacted by more kinds of perpetrators. Domestic violence is substantial and highly damaging for disabled women, but violence also encompasses institutional violence from carers, where women live in residential homes or from assistants where they receive help to live in their own homes. ‘Hate’ violence and crime was also described, where women are abused on the basis of who they are seen to be. Violence is often directed towards perceived areas of weakness, such as attacks that focus on women’s impairments, often arising or increasing at the onset of impairment and at times when women need more help, such as during pregnancy and childbirth or if their residency status is uncertain. Although violence is most prevalent for young adult women, participants report experiencing violence at all stages of the life course and sometimes in many different settings.

Support to Counter Violence

A formidable array of barriers are identified by disabled women in relation to securing assistance and achieving a violence – free life. At a micro, individual level,   the active isolation of women by perpetrators, combined with the inaccessibility of services and a lack of knowledge and capacity to help, all result in keeping disabled women away from support services. Macro level systemic barriers include the ways that funding and administrative regimes combine to make movement away from repeat violence situations very difficult. The project is highlighting the dynamics of this pressing social problem and setting out the steps that need to be taken to prevent and address this abuse. Examples of good practice and innovation in each of the countries are also being documented.

Project Publications

UK Reports and Working Papers

Working Papers:


International Project Findings and Publications The main project website is maintained by  the international project co-ordinator, the Ludwig Bolzmann Institute, Austria

The site has reports and other publications from all four counties, in a range of accessible formats.

Report on Disabled Women’s Right to Occupy

Report on Disabled Women’s Right to Occupy

Putney Debate
Feminism, Disability and Activism

It was a brilliant night – thank you all for coming – Becky Olaniyi,Ruth Bashall, Michelle Daley, Janet Price, Lani Parker and others.

Michelle, Eleanor, Ruth and Becky

Michelle, Eleanor, Ruth and Becky

Michelle speaking

Michelle speaking

people in discussion in a group

some great discussions on that night

this is the link to the video

Feminism, Disability and Activism



Video 1



Welcome everybody to the Putney Debate. First a few things about housekeeping. The disabled toilet is down there at the end of the corridor and there are other toilets upstairs. We are going to be live streaming and recording for prosperity all the debates so when it comes to questions and comments, I will hand around a mic. If you come up just please be aware that you need to speak clearly and use the microphone. So, welcome everybody and I’ll hand over to Eleanor.

Video 2


Thank you Julie. Let me explain a bit about the live streaming. Anybody who is online can be watching this and maybe contribute as well Inka? I’ve seen that.

Inka: Would you like that?


I don’t know if anyone is watching. If anyone can put it on Twitter, I’ve put it on Facebook but I don’t know if it’s on Twitter or not. So, that would be great.

First of all I have to thank Occupy London for suggesting that we did this. At first I thought what have we got to do with Occupy London but then we thought this is a really good platform to do something that has never been discussed before. And we came up with the title last Friday afternoon over cake and that is why I think everything was done in a bit of a rush and anybody who works with disabled people knows that when you try and organise anything you have to give a long time and so I apologise to Pauline and all the deaf friends who came. We tried so many interpreters and we just didn’t manage. Well, we did manage to get one and we thought hallelujah but something personal happened and she couldn’t stay.

Anyway, let me tell you something about Sisters of Frida which is the host I think you call it with Occupy London for this meeting. If you don’t know yet, the title of this meeting is Disabled Women’s Right to Occupy. When we were discussing this, Ruth and I, we thought that instead of having a panel of us talking and then questions and answers, we would do it in a form of interview and other people could interject and join in the conversation. Also, we did it this way because this is entirely new and we have not done this before. This is not just disabled people or Occupy London or other people or groups. This is a whole mixture so we will see what comes out of this little melting pot. I should start with a little bit about Sisters of Frida. I always forget to introduce and do the proper introductions.

Sisters of Frida was started about 2 years ago. We sat in a lobby in a hotel as we didn’t have anywhere else to go and it seemed the right thing to do to have it over a cup of tea. There were 9 or 10 of us and we thought it was a really good idea. One of the people who was there was Martine Newel who was gutted that she can’t come but she has a really bad cold and instead of sharing it with everyone here she thought she would just watch it on the live stream and share her thoughts later. Another one has gone off to Liverpool and others are in the rest of England and so cannot come and that’s why we are really grateful to Occupy London and Inka for live streaming so that they can also join us.

Anyway, why Sisters of Frida? We are called Sisters of Frida and took a long time to decide that name because we didn’t want it to be specifically labelled in a jam jar sort of thing, you know? We decided that our role model should be Frida Khalo because she was an artist and her creativity was born out of her impairment and her disability but she was also a very feisty women, was bisexual, she was an activist, she was a lover, she was a real lover of life. So anyway, that’s how it all started. You can read it all on our website about what we do.

We are trying to focus on a few things and we are still coming up with what we are going to be and what we are going to do in the future but violence against women, the sort of gaps that disabled peoples organisations have not touched on. The sort of things that feminism in general have not touched on. Disabled women and feminism.

Video 3


Let me start by introducing Becky who I met last week at Feminism in London and I had this thought and said that she would be a brilliant person to start the conversation this evening. I will do a bit of introduction. Becky’s 18, she is doing her A Levels, she’s amazing. She does swimming, tennis and reading and is studying English Literature, Psychology and Sociology and hoped to study psychology at university. She’s Nigerian, born in America and has used a wheelchair since she was a young child. Then her family moved back to London and she has lived here ever since. And, if this is right, she says this is the first time that she has done anything relating to disability.




Congratulations and aren’t we lucky! Despite being in a wheelchair and having a visible disability this has a huge impact for pretty much her whole life. She says for her this is a testament to how much disability issues are ignored and go unnoticed and are not discussed even by people with disabilities. She’s becoming more aware of the power and inequality and how that affects her day to day activities since she was 16. OK, now I have a series of questions prepared and I think we will go from there if that’s OK?

First of all is there anything else that you would like to introduce that I haven’t already done?

I am not sure. This is so weird hearing my own voice! Well, I am Becky and I’m 18. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy and the list goes on. But aside from that I have a lot of different interests and I try to not let my disability get in the way of my life. I just power on and try to be as normal as I can. And, yes, that’s pretty much it.


I don’t like labels and I think that most of us have multiple identities. For example I am a disabled Malaysian Chinese woman, British by marriage. Being a wheelchair user, impairment is pretty visible, and as a women of colour. So intersectionality is important to me.

What identity, if you can answer this, is the most important to you? You have said all that before or do they have equal impact on you?


That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t think there are separate identities. I think that everything that is a part of me becomes one identity. I think the idea of having separate identities is a bit weird because you are one person and all these things make you. So you are not just black or just gay or just disabled. You are your own person and you are made up of all these different aspects.


Yes, but I think then my question is how do you find that these different identities, for example, I know that my Chinese community don’t really accept disability and I have problems there. You’d be hard pushed to find many BAEM (Black and Asian Ethnic Minority) disabled people’s organisations. There is one called National Equality Council. So that’s why the question but I think that what you have said is quite fair as I don’t think I ever thought about separating the strands in my life.

In what you said earlier in your bio, you sort of said that from 16 you feel like you have been a sort of activist. Do you want to elaborate on what shaped you on that journey do you think?


I am not really sure I guess. I just started spending more and more time on the internet. Then from there I started learning more about activism and when I went into sixth form I kind of got my own identity and there were less rules and less restrictions. I sort of branched out and did my own study and reading.

Video 4


And from there it really inspired me to do more and more and now I am here.


Great. I think I asked because one of the themes is activism and that’s sort of part of Occupy London as well. Its great because one of the reasons I asked you is because it’s pretty important to Sisters of Frida how can we help young disabled women like yourself? So how we can help women like yourselves to show you the way or to learn with you etc. We were both at Feminism in London last week and we both remarked on the fact that there were not many visible disabled women there and I can see that Angela is here. She was at Feminism in London too. Thank you Angela for being here. We were both saying that feminists haven’t really included disabled women or women of colour in their discussions. What would you have liked as sort of support from other feminists? You know, from your experiences there because we went to different sessions?


Well I kind of chaired a session at Feminism in London and one of the women there said something that really struck me. She was like, before I met you I never had any idea that there were black people with disabilities because you only see white people with disabilities. I was like, well that’s an interesting sentiment, thank you. I would just like for a feminist to acknowledge that there are people with disabilities that are also women that are also feminists. We are not just there in our own little bubble […….feminism] because that’s counterproductive.


I can’t believe she said that! [laughs]

But that is great.

Sisters of Frida was set up because we felt disabled women were left out of the whole conversation of feminism. So how should you think, I mean this might be a tough question and might go on forever, but how do you think an intersectional network (an intersectional network that we have been discussing) would work? What support could it give you? What support would you like from it? Or what could you do with it?


I think to have an intersectional network you have to first acknowledge the fact that there are women that have disabilities are [……]also? human beings and that having a physical disability doesn’t dull your intellect and even having a mental disability doesn’t mean that you cant have your own opinions. And before intersectionality can happen, this has to happen. And I think an important thing for intersectionality is showing young women with disabilities that just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean that you are a freak. I only have one friend my age who has a disability and she tends not to acknowledge it. Not that she is ashamed but she doesn’t want it to be something that is shared with other people and I think that is a serious problem because if people don’t want to be open with their disabilities, how can we meet people who have disabilities?


I think that is perfectly fair. When I was your age I was in total denial. I just thought that I need to work harder and get on and I’ll be OK.

So, the last question here before we go on to Ruth is (pause). Well I should say, we started with Becky because its seems good to start with someone who is just starting on her journey to intersectionality and feminism and disability activism. And then going to Ruth who has been there quite a long time. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

So this next question is a bit more sort of focussed on something else. Disabled women are said to be twice or even three times more likely to encounter domestic or sexual violence. And one young member of Sister of Frida said that she was doing workshops in Strasbourg with young disabled women and that some were not even aware that they had been inappropriately touched because of their impairment/disability.

How do we get awareness to disabled women so that they can first of all be aware to complain about it, where should they go and how do we even start because violence against women and domestic violence is very much in the news at the moment but I think disabled women don’t seem to be mentioned.


At my sociology lessons at school we have been looking at gender and crime and we hear all these statistics about how one in six women experience domestic violence every year and one in ten women will experience it in her life. And a certain number of women of colour have experienced domestic violence but there is never anything about women with disabilities so it kind of comes across that women with disabilities are not able to be domestically abused or sexually abused and this is a total myth and I think that this needs to be dispelled so that you can teach people that what someone is doing to you is wrong and its not just something that you should expect just because you have a disability.




Fantastic. Thank you Becky.

Is there anything that you would like to ask? Or talk about anything I left out?


I would just like to say that this is the first time being in a room with so many disabled people and woohoo!


(Laughing and clapping)


I think before we go to questions we should ask Ruth the same questions.


Video 5


This is an introduction as there may be some of you who do not know her. Ruth runs Stay Safe East, a disabled people’s organisation or DPO for short which supports victims and survivors of all forms of abuse including domestic and sexual abuse and hate crime. They’re unashamedly feminist in their approach and work to the social model and so work with any women or even men who are disabled even if they don’t identify themselves as such. They have worked with over 200 clients since they set up 3 years ago so they have a lot of case work evidence to offer. A large part of the job is around policy and strategic work in London and National level and she has also been involved in European research. She found that the barriers faced by deaf and disabled are many and wide ranging. Different forms of domestic violence can [….. ] for disabled women. They believe that safeguarding systems at times actually increase the risk and at best does nothing. It makes her think of Sojourner Truth who said “Ain’t I a woman”. Lack of accessible and appropriate support, services rampant with discrimination in the justice system and so on and so on. I was told to keep it short. Ruth, welcome. Would you like to introduce a bit more about yourself or have I missed out anything?

Video 6


I suppose it’s partly about your question later about activism but I didn’t land in this from nowhere. I have been a feminist all my life and disabled since my thirties. And was not one of the earliest women, I think women like Kirsten Hearn and Pat Rock who were involved in trying to make the feminist movement more inclusive I think deserve a bit of credit. I was a late comer to this but there has been a strong feminist strand of disabled women who have tried to bring the two together. But I think that there is a new generation, not just in age, but in chronology if you like, of disabled women who are starting to raise their heads above the parapet again and its fantastic to be here with Becky and also Eleanor who has been a strong part of creating Sisters of Frida. We can talk about activism later.

Video 7


We haven’t talked about you.

Which identity is the most important to you or do they have equal impact on you?


I think like Becky, to me I’m me, I’m Ruth. But you cant divide yourself up into a series of identities and of labels. I am a lesbian and a grandmother now. If you had asked me this 20/30 years ago I would have said that I am a lesbian mother probably before anything else. I’m a disabled women, I’m lots of things. I’m a gardener, you know. Those labels are not the only thing but the important thing to me is to be recognised for the totality of who we are and not be asked to be just disabled. That was why I was quoting Sojourner Truth earlier. The whole idea that “as black women, aint I a women, as a disabled women aint I a women too” and that disabled women were seen as genderless and you even have so-called disabled toilets. I remember going to a disabled women’s conference in Germany and there was a group of women who did a skit about this. They said that toilets have three genders; male, female and disabled. Of course, we didn’t fit any of those but that’s another story. But I think that whole issue about identity is a complex one. I came from a generation where we chose a identity very consciously not only as women but very often for many of us as lesbians. And you still find that people will talk about LGBT, they will talk about gay but somehow the word lesbian is far too sexual, far too direct, and far too obvious.

You know, I think that its complex and it depends on the context, but in the end I am me and those labels are only a small part of who I am. But I want to be recognised for who I am. I don’t want to have to leave part of me on the doorstep and apologise for part of me and that includes having to apologise for my sexuality, for my life history and for being a women and being disabled etc. That’s the important thing that we don’t have to apologise but that we are also welcomed and recognised and that the experience we’ve got is recognised and taken account of in how anything is organised, done, thought about etc. And that’s the problem. I think to me, intersectionality is a new word. I had to look it up in the dictionary. We talked about multiple oppression. But it’s something that is describing a reality that is more complex. And I think you know, to me I talk about inclusion really but in the end it’s the same thing. It’s about recognising that our differences bring us together. I can’t remember the quote from Audrey Lord but there is a wonderful quote about not being afraid. “It’s not our differences that divide us but the fear of our differences” I think is the quote. I think that says it all really.


If I may quickly add something to that. I was very honoured that I got to meet Rashida Manjoo who was the special reporter for sexual violence and she came to the UK and she mentioned that one of the problems is that there is gender neutrality.   So, there is a problem with disabled people’s organisations as we talk about disabled people but we do not talk about disabled women. So that’s that huge gap.

So, why do you call yourself an activist? I think you do call yourself an activist and what has shaped you in that journey?


I mean I would call myself a human rights activist. I think (pause). It’s funny, I was thinking about this on the way here and I think the thing that shaped me was probably my mother who was a strong feminist, who was a communist. But also the experience of growing up as a foreigner not long after the war in France where I experienced a fair amount of xenophobia including being tied to the tree for burning Joan of Arc which was a strange thing but in those days the super nationalism of Europe unfortunately was starting to a take hold again. And, very early on being aware of anti Arab racism I think more than anything else. And of stuff that happened in the early 60s when I was still a child when a demonstration of Algerian migrants in France (it was at the time of the Algerian Move of Independence) were set upon by the Police and 200 people were murdered and thrown into the river in Paris and it still affects me. It was hushed up and my mother had a friend who was in journalism and I can remember them sitting around the table talking about this. And for me, as a child, that was an impression that really stayed in me and in my memory and it still does. And the injustice of the silence around that. And I think the silence more than anything else. The mass murder of a group of people who were simply fighting for their right to self dissemination.

I was of the generation of 1968 in France, so I dutifully went off and threw paving stones at Police Officers who retaliated by raping a friend of mine. And I think that was probably seeing the violence against women and I came to Britain in the early 70s when the Women’s Movement was being born and found a movement that, I think in the early stages, was very local and very much turned to America and the States because that was the inspiration but gradually started to become more international.

For a while I was on Outright Women’s Newspaper who were a socialist feminist women’s publication at the very end of it. It’s not my fault that it closed, but at the very end of it. So, I think a lot of the kind of perspective that I have was an internationalist one because of my experience and my background.

And I was involved in trying to set up a women’s centre, lesbian mothers network, trying to fight for the right to keep our children because at the time if you said you were a lesbian and a mother that was something that (pause) the two words don’t go together. And interestingly now I find myself in the same situation working with disabled women now where the two words don’t go together where there is an assumption that if you are a disabled women you are an unfit mother. Hasn’t changed that much. It’s just the label that has changed.

I was very much involved in anti racist things and trying to stop people being deported and so on. And involved in community politics so I have always been a grass roots activist in my own neighbourhood in East London and it’s been about that. And gradually when I became disabled I got kind of dragooned into the Disability Movement by a couple of friends who basically said stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it, there is a demonstration to organise. I was used to organising demonstrations so I did and I haven’t looked back.

So, I think it has always been from a human rights perspective and from an international point of view and I still keep links with people in other countries. I think that’s very important in terms of understanding the experiences of disabled women for example. You know, where we are starting from is not the same in every country. Our experiences of impairment are different. And lots of other things really. And I suppose that’s my background in activism.   And it’s fantastic to see a new generation of feminism coming along who have got that international perspective.



Video 8



Here maybe I should add that something that Sisters of Frida have been doing is getting involved with UN instruments like CEDAW which is the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Eleanor and I went to Geneva last year as we felt it was important to have a visible presence of disabled women and now we are also involved in the writing of the shadow report for the convention of rights for disabled people. And also we are very honoured that organisations for social justice have invited us to go along. Perhaps because there are not that many organisations of just disabled women.

So, when were talking we said that it would be good to have some kind of network set up from this. This would be the sort of nucleus to start off something perhaps. What would you like to grow from this? Or is that a difficult question?


I think it depends on the context and depends what you are doing.

I just want to go back to something which I forgot to mention and that is important. I was one of the founder members for the Campaign for Accessible Transport and it was the first, no second, direct action groups who campaigned around accessible transport and I think that this kind of overlaps with your question as it is about how we do stuff. I learnt an enormous amount from doing that because it was about trying to work together to do direct action which is pretty scary particularly if you have never done it before. I hadn’t done it as a disabled woman. And trying to do it in a way that is inclusive and we did manage to develop something which gave people a choice about how they got involved, what they did, whether they chained themselves to a bus, whether they got themselves arrested. It’s not rocket science and it’s probably not great news to those who are now involved in direct action. But it was quite ground breaking and it had an impact way beyond its number of people. You know, there were 100 people on the mailing list but you know you can block the whole on central London with 50 people particularly if they are wheelchair users and at the time the police didn’t know how to arrest us. There weren’t any accessible police stations in Central London. I’m afraid there are now so it doesn’t work anymore! (laughs). They’re a lot better at it now. I must admit I have been an advisor to the Metropolitan Police. But I didn’t tell them how to do some of it I must say. I kept some of it quiet.

But, I must say I think in terms of networking the important thing is about how it has changed now. There is a lot of stuff online; you know I’m useless at Facebook. I think that the kind of exchange of ideas, impressions, thoughts, trying to educate each other and trying to understand how we develop inclusive networks is really important. There is the capacity to do that because we can do a lot of it online and you don’t have to be in the same room. And you can cool down before you have a go at someone. All those feminist conferences where we kind of threw things at each other (laughs). I think it’s really nice and useful to have a bit of time to think.

So for me personally, because I work on violence against women (and disabled men occasionally), it’s having a network which is about reinforcing the feminism of it. The gender based stuff. The inclusive stuff. The intersectionality which actually allows me to put things in context.

On a personal level the research I’m involved with on European research on violence against disabled women, the fact of going to Vienna last summer and actually being with a bunch of feminists, some disabled and some not, who were working on this issue and thinking about the issues in great detail. Some were activists and some of the women were doing some extraordinary daring stuff around sexuality in places like Austria. A country where thousands and thousands of disabled people are still locked up in institutions. They’re still building institutions. And she is going into institutions to talk about sexuality with very little support. Just being able to be inspired by what other people are doing and also to learn from that to energise each other I think is really important. And that includes, you know, I think there is a need for a network of disabled women but there is a need for a wider debate and a wider exchange of experience and expertise around activism. It is really needed but in order to do that we need the mainstream events to be inclusive. You know, I am partially deaf, if at a big event I don’t have subtitles then I may as well not be there. I would be in the same situation as Pauline. Those sorts of things are really important and we have to think about that before we even get together. But from that point of view the internet is really useful. Anyway I will shut up now.


Thank you.

Video 9


I think here there may be a few of us that are involved with DPAG, well some of us also do the direct actions which are a little bit more hairy these days as Occupy London have also been involved I think in live streaming and supporting and I agree with you that we work with unions and with all sorts of mainstream.   And I think that is exciting and I think that like tonight we said that it’s for men and women, disabled and non-disabled as we all have to work together and it’s a battle because fighting for access and you think that should know about it and I am sure you know, for example Pauline and her friends said that I should know about and I do know about it but sometimes it is a bit difficult to all get organised. I mean we were supposed to be upstairs with a platform lift and I was having nightmares about the platform lift breaking down and all of us stranded upstairs with nowhere to go (laughs). And you know, that sort of thing is always a problem.

Now, on the schedule there should be a break but I’m thinking that maybe it’s too soon for a break? And I was wondering if people here would like to say something so that we can think about it over the break and then come back and talk a bit more about it. Maybe I should introduce Janet Price who has come all the way from Liverpool (pause background talking).

I was thinking that we should have some questions and then have a break and come back and then… What would you like to do? Oh, alright then, shall we have a break? I’m afraid we did not manage to set tea up but there is a cafe that I think is still open (background talking)…. Euston station is just across the street. Is 15 minutes enough? Or 20? OK. But there might be queues for the loos too. I don’t know. I know Euston station. I even slept in it once when I was made homeless (laughs).

So, OK. I think we shall have our break then.

Video 10


It’s not so much a question and answer thing here. I think we wanted it to open up more into a conversation and there are people here that would be great if they are willing to contribute as I know they have got great stories and etc.

One of the people that I invited and was very happy when she said that she would come down from Liverpool, all the way from Liverpool, is Janet Price and also [Angrid]. And I don’t know if you guys know about the DaDaFest but she is part of that as well and has done some great work about disability and sexuality )and if you want to continue about what we have been talking about or bring in your own experiences or thoughts that would be great Janet.


Am I alright here or would it be better if I held it (the mic)? I’ll just go a bit further back.

Well, thanks so much. I have been eyeing Sisters of Frida online for quite a while thinking feminists, disabled, feminists, let me at them (laughs). So it is really lovely to be here. I became disabled about 25 years ago now and I have been an active political feminist lesbian and for me to suddenly feel like I had lost a whole community which is what happened so many people disappeared from my life at that time and I had also moved cities and was hunting around for things to do and actually what I fell across was not other disabled feminists but disabled representation and the politics behind it and that was when i got involved with DaDaFest. One of the things that has struck me more and more as I have been involved with DaDaFest (disability and deaf arts festival)( currently about to launch our festival for this year in 4 days time check out online www.dadafest.co.uk and we are streaming some stuff but there is going to be a lot of really good stuff online. So anyway, that’s the politics and the advertising). What it has made me realise that being part of an organisation where access is key and representation of disabled and deaf people’s lives as they choose to represent them whether it’s through plays or through poetry or through films or through statues and we are very clear that we are not trying through DaDaFest, this isn’t about community based art which has its place and is really important and we support that too but this is about quality representation that tells people about how we want to be seen as disabled people and so it’s really exciting work and its developing more and more all the time. I know you got to see a lot during the Paralympics down in London and there was a lot of really good work going on and being shown here at that time. Well we get a big festival of it every 2 years in Liverpool and it is wonderful and it’s going national and we are now going global so we have ambitions.

And one of the things, that international ambition, has I think been really close to my heart because a bit like Ruth I have always been an internationalist. I mean, politics taught me that I was so ineffably middle class and able and it was about recognising the privilege of that and about the struggles of other people and the way that I could be committed to working alongside them and the battles that they were fighting.

And one of the real joys of my life is that I have been able to be very close to and work alongside disabled feminists in India. And non disabled feminists and watch the interactions and the issues that they are fighting together and how the work that has gone on between disabled and non disabled feminists in India has been something that has taught me a lot about the way that movements can start to come together and share issues. There is no sense in which they would say it’s perfect but there have been a lot of lessons that they have tried to move and work together. Now the organisation that I have had the luck to work a lot with is a feminist, human rights and sexual rights organisation called CREA and they do a lot of training of young activists. They do a lot of political representation and challenging the ways of the forms of political representation around sexuality. They have also started thinking increasingly a lot around disability and I have been working with them for 10/12 years now both doing trainings and supporting the training of other young Indian activists so that they can go out and do similar sorts of work.

It’s increasingly a very intersectional organisation and one of their greatest events that they ever held was a violence against women conference. And they held it up in Nepal and they held it in Nepal because it was a South Asian conference and they wanted somewhere that would have access for women using wheelchairs and none of the big hotels had more than one room so in Nepal they found a hotel that was just in the process of being built so Geeta, who heads up CREA, and is a force to be reckoned with, went up to Nepal and did this deal with them that they would bring the conference there if they built another 4 rooms that had wheelchair access and so they did. So you suddenly got this really good accessible hotel in Nepal and its about using those moments and that meeting had disabled women, lesbians, trans women, women living with HIV and sex workers. There were conversations going on that were quite extraordinary. You know, disabled women for whom it was their first time that they had been able to fly somewhere sitting next to a sex worker. And the sex worker saying “I didn’t know that disabled women had sex” and you know, people saying “I’ve never sat next to a sex worker, what’s life like for you?!” And so conversations happening that just don’t happen in other places and bringing together groups of people for whom the experience of violence was a common one and they had backed the conference up with some serious research with these groups beforehand so that there was a lot of participatory research that fed into it and then there was the actual experience of bringing together people and letting them have those exchanges with each other and to share those moments and really talk to each other.

And it seems to me that there is an ambition there that I think we need to claim and to really look at what is being done and the types of things that can be done if we really put some energy, some power and some thought. Just the energies behind all the movements that are here this evening. You know, all sorts of magical things can come out of it.

And just looking at the sorts of things that have emerged over the years from CREA trainings with activists around disability. A woman who was a feminist who did a lot of work around training, around sexual and reproductive rights and anti violence work, she had some contact with a group of deaf women. She went in and shared with them all of her knowledge that she had gained from working in feminism and that group of deaf women taught her an awful lot about what being a deaf woman facing violence was like. But she also learnt a lot about she needed to change her forms of presentation so that they were more accessible to a non hearing audience for example, the sort of things that she needed to be aware of. And, that you know, that we need to be aware of in an audience like this because it’s not just simply the women who are deaf and use sign. It’s the women who use hearing aids or the women whose hearing is dropping. You know, there is a whole series of protocols that we need to get our heads around. I think I have been trained by the best in the business because DaDaFest are just so on the ball about it. It’s crucial and I think that we have to be able to admit our ignorance and learn about what we need to do about access because all of us are still doing it so badly. And this isn’t getting at you Eleanor. It’s the problems of people not recognising the money that we need to do this properly, and all of the things that flow from there. So, yes, just to finish the story about the group deaf women. They have now been doing trainings around violence against deaf women which is of horrendous proportions as I think it is around most of the world including this country. But they have gone out across through India and you meet them and they are so delighted as they say they are being invited not only to North India and South India and a group from Pakistan wrote to them the other day and there is a group in Nepal that want them to go and visit. Those sorts of South Asian links that have built up and are very strong which means that they can now network much more broadly than they ever thought would be possible for them and they can do it in a way that fits with their sense of themselves as deaf women and increasingly as deaf feminist women. So that’s just one of many examples I could share with you. And I think that what has been exciting is that a group who have a real influence on training activists and really sharing skills with them have taken disability on as a serious part of how they function as an organisation. So that spreads out and begins to have an impact on all the organisations that they are working with which now involves a lot of the young activists working across India.

Video 11


Thank you that was brilliant.

One of the things I have been meaning to talk about is that I started saying how Sisters of Frida was started but I didn’t actually say that it really started when the Million Women Rise invited me to go and speak at their march and me and Michelle Daley we spoke to 6,000 people at Trafalgar Square about violence against disabled women and from there, for me, I discovered that there is that gap. Following that a couple of weeks ago Michelle and I went to a premier of a film called Margarita with a Straw and that brings it back to India because I was blown away by that film and the sort of the brave intentions of Shonali Bose who was the editor and even more wonderful it was based on the life of somebody that both of us knew, Malini Chib, who didn’t come tonight (she was invited).

Michelle, do you want to come in as people have heard my voice and you are a very good speaker?


You carry on.

Very quickly about this film. It is truly international, intersectional. It was about a young girl who had cerebral palsy in India and she got a scholarship or her parents sent her off to New York to study because the access in Mumbai wasn’t so good for colleges and there she sort of went into a self exploration, self discovery of sexuality. She discovered that she was bisexual; she met a blind girl at a protest and got into a whole load of things you know. It is wonderful to go into a film about disability and sexuality and have the words “fuck the police” in one of the scenes. It talked about the relationship with her mother and her parents and its the whole kind of politics, the sexuality, the relationships of being disabled and being a woman who is full of curiosity. It was a great, great film. Michelle, do come in….


I just want say that I was really excited when Eleanor told me that we have Becky coming to speak. She was like “wow, we have a young woman , she’s articulate, she knows her stuff” and I said “alright, alright you’ve sold enough”! But when I met Becky I thought you know what she is good. This is exciting as we have some fresh blood coming through. And I think that having Becky on stage is fantastic as we do need more new blood as its the young generation that we need to be working on to come through the doors and give new ideas because your experiences are so different from our experiences. You have been mainstreamed and the fact that you have said that this is the first time you have been in a room with disabled people says a lot.

My experience was that I was running away from disabled people when I was 18 because my experience was segregated in a special school and I think that there is a lot we can learn and I think that we need to make sure we tie Becky now in a different way. There is a lot that we can learn from the new generation of young people and Becky’s experience doesn’t really reflect every disabled people out there as many young disabled people don’t have the opportunity to go to a mainstream school. To have this experience, that people like Ruth who have campaigned long and hard before myself, for disabled people to have what Becky wants. Becky is the dream that we wanted when we think about young people’s experiences. What we might not of had the opportunity to achieve what Becky wanted but the fact that we can see the fruit of it is fantastic. What we want to do really is to nurture what Becky has so that she can make it better for the generation after her. And I think there is so much that we need to be able to find a way of working with people like Becky and other young people to say how do we bring the new blood in? How do we work the new blood because their experiences, and we have to be realistic, are different to our experiences? When we were growing up I thought to myself there was no such thing as accessible toilets. You had to plan your day. When you left your home, whether you drank, what time you drank as there was no such thing as this. There was no such thing as accessible buses, dropped curbs. There was a lot more logistics on how you planned you day just to do day to day things. For Becky she won’t understand that. If she wants to get on a bus she just gets on a bus. But that wasn’t a reality for many disabled people. I know I keep saying that I want to see Becky at more things and I think we can learn from people like Becky.

Another thing that is important, and Eleanor I think you touched on it, is that we have social media. This is a great way to reach people who have not been here today and I think we are talking about domestic violence against disabled people and I think that there are so many voices that couldn’t come here that are being abused and they are being abused for a number of different reasons and they may not know about the supports that are out there. People who are refugees who are fleeing violence from their countries and even people who don’t have status in this country. Having to live in certain conditions. I was talking to Lani earlier about how we reach the voices that may not even know about our groups? It is important that we find ways and using certain technology, saying technology not everyone has online access. People who are living underground in different ways. For me it’s how do we reach them? Not everybody has the opportunities that we have. People could define us as privileged disabled people.   I wouldn’t define myself as privileged but in many ways we could be for people who can’t access what we have access to. I think that this has opened a discussion and I think that it is great that we are live streaming so that someone can record it and send it off to other people to show there are groups of disabled people out there. Also, something beautiful about today is that we have different faces in the room, different colours in the room. When I started out many years back it was often “we need a black person at the table” and that used to really annoy me and I would say I’m not coming, why should I? The fact that I had been invited because I was a black disabled woman…hell, no. You invite me because I am who I am. WE need to think about how we structure certain things when we speak to people as I know for a fact that someone like Becky who is young is not going to be having “come to the room because we need young black disabled people around the table.” It’s not right to invite people in those ways. So there are lots of things to think about the way we do things and still I get invited “can you come to an event because we don’t have any representation from certain groups?” Yes we want to have diversity but don’t invite me just like that. We should be thinking about it in different ways.

OK, I think I am rambling. But I think that this is a great platform to get going. Thank you for organising it.

Video 12.


I think that one of the things we got to remember, and I think in terms of activists, we were just talking about the independent living allowance being abolished, that’s probably going to finish off this generation of activists. It has funded PA support for the entire disability movement.

There are young disabled people now that can’t leave home, who can’t

get involved in stuff because they get only 10 hours per week support.

They can’t get out of their front their doors, physically they don’t get

access, simply because everything is cut back. I think that if you are an activist, fighting for our basic rights to services, it’s not sexy, it’s not something that politicians bother a pee about because the disabled vote is not a collective vote that people have an awareness of, it’s invisible, it’s what happens to people when they are in their own homes, particularly if they can’t get out. But actually this is a key human rights issue. People I work with are fighting to get basic support for someone who has survived domestic violence, who survived raping institutions, who is traumatised and is still being told they don’t deserve – and this word deserve keeps coming back – basic support so that they can get out of their beds, that is basic. And it’s not out on the street, because they can’t get out of bed to go on the street and we need to fight for that as well. We want to see a new generation of young disabled people, but we need to fight for their right to be there. Sorry to put a pessimistic angle on it, but I think it’s really important.

Having said that, there is a new generation of young disabled women

out there whose awareness of themselves as young women is really

strong. And at that point I’ll stop talking about Becky and hand her the microphone.

Video 14


I think it’s really exciting being considered to be part of the new

generation. I never considered myself like that, I always think of myself as an individual. I would like to say thank you to women like Ruth, because it never occurred to me that there were disabled women before me that didn’t have the opportunity to go to main stream school. It’s really important all the work that you have done, if you hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t be here. People like you need to be acknowledged, even you kind of downplay your hard work what you have done, but I think you have done a lot for the disability movement. And I would like to meet a lot more women like you because you don’t get a lot of attention.

Video 15


Think also of other people who have been instrumental for getting

young disabled people into main street education, that has not been my

area. That has been so important in terms of inclusion in disabled and

non disabled people growing up together, but also in terms of disabled people getting a decent education. The quality of education in special schools ain’t what it should be, let’s put it that way. And a segregated society can never be an equal one.

We are part of a movement, it’s not over yet. I was interested to hear

what you were saying about India. There’s a sense that the second wave of feminism kind of died back in the more wealthy countries and actually women in India and in Latin America have taken up the

mantle and that has continued, and in terms of disabled women that has been the same. Maybe it has come back to us full circle. I would like to get into contact with that group, I would be really interested in what they are doing.

Video 16


We’ve been talking about the next thing we are doing to do, with Sisters of Frida, is screening a documentary of 4 disabled women who are talking about their sexuality, we’re hoping to organize that event, but I am still looking for the time to write the funding for that. Back to Michelle..


This echoes what Ruth said, I think it’s really important, as long as we

have segregated services, we are never going to have inclusion. We have to continue the struggle and fight for disabled people to recognize that young people do need to be aware what segregation really means. The moment you have a job you tend to forget that you have to fight for our freedom. You know, because we have a book ….. accessible …….

It doesn’t mean we have achieved our freedom, because there can only

be one wheelchair user on the bus. We do really need to take people

back to the basics, to understand look we haven’t achieved full equality yet.

And also, and I am paraphrasing you Becky, questions about which

identity is important to you, I’m so glad that Becky said, well, they are

all important to me. I am who I am, that is all important. That’s

fantastic and the moment we start compartmentalise different bits of

ourselves, that’s wrong in it self. We need to be recognized for who we

are. This is just a platform, we need to keep going.


To continue from what Ruth said this is the beginning of something

great, let’s hope that it starts tonight. Janet, did you want to come



Are there any questions on the floor?

Man in audience

You spoke about the million women march in India, we are very

interested in that in Occupy London, it was great to hear that you

actually went there and met some of these amazing women. It’s

interesting that it is women, Julie, you would know more about that.

Women now make up 70% of farmers, that also means that they are

more liable to have accidents and incur harm or injury. But they are

supplying the world with food we are eating in London here today

which is very unacknowledged. But as I said, it was wonderful to hear

that reference, I wasn’t aware that any people from our world, the first

world, the western world, attending, so I’ld like to hear more about


Woman in audience

Can I just say one comment for OT’s. Recently I was teaching on a

course for Occupational Therapists. At the end I said to them, our

identity is more than just our disability, it’s getting people to see us

beyond our disability, see us as we say: we are women, part of a global citizenship. We are much morethan our diability. We have to keep reminding them our disability is not our identity, it’s just part of what we are.

Video 18

Man in audience

I was given a diagnosis by a doctor, another doctor came along and

said, the diagnosis was probably wrong. But, you know something,

everybody is disabled – I’m using that word very loosely – if they think

they are perfect. The world is disabled by not being sensitive about

other people in the world. My problem is your problem, everybody’s

problem should be everybody’s problem.

On identity. Nobody here can know their identity until the world

understands its identity and the worlds identity needs to incorporate the potential identity of every creature. And everything that happens on the planet. We have a big problem about identity, the world actually does not know what it is. The politicians who rule this world like gods with tridents and blazing with fire, they do not understand their own identity, they do not understand the functionality of the world, what the world should be about. Everyone can enable the world to discover its true identity, by empathy, by caring in a really authentic way. Sorry if I went on a bit too long, it is about passion and passionate words.


Thanks for that. There’s a lot of problems around the word disabled

and about the concept of disability. I think it’s a complex issue and I

think everyday language uses the word disabled as a negative thing,

crippled, blind to the truth, deaf to reality, all that kind of stuff. I’m

not going to give you an advanced course in disability and equality and the social model. To me being disabled is about your pride, it’s not something to be ashamed of, that is not to say that the reality of our impairment which is about our conditions, is not sometimes difficult.

But it’s not the only thing about me, I can peel the carrots, it’s not the

main thing. But who I am, part of my identity of being a disabled

woman, is part of who I am, not having to apologise for being a disabled woman to me is so crucial to our identity as a disabled women, not seeing the fact that our bodies, our minds, our ways of seeing the world happen to be are different than other peoples. And that is not a problem, and I think we were trying to get at that, its absolutely crucial to our sense of pride, being able to live our lives as disabled women, the fact that we might have to do things differently, that we pick up our dinner with our feet not our hands, we might happen not walk but wheel, the fact that being blind is not a loss but who you are, as long as we perceive disability as less than, something that is a loss, that is a shame, it’s so sad. ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you speak out ’, because you are a disabled woman

Yes, on one level it’s wonderful because we face so many barriers, that we are able to speak out, on another level, its just life. We are what we are and in fact we are very proud of being a disabled woman. That identity is something to be claimed, so many of us are actually ashamed of who we are and we feel we have to apologise for ourselves. As a movement if we can create a space where disabled people, women in particular, can be themselves, that does involve doing practical things, but also talking about ways of thinking, doing and knowing that together we are a heck of a lot stronger.



We talk about disabilities not just our identities. This may be the

appropriate place to say that our wonderful friend Kirsten can’t be

here, because she is, what do we call it, she is celebrating her, what do

you call it?? I don’t know what the word is, paganism? O yes, she is a

witch! (cheers from the audience) Doing the rights, whatever you do as

a witch,… that’s what I want to end on, we don’t have one identity,

sometimes a thing can be more important than just being disabled

women, we have other roles to play.

Thanks you so much for coming, and for the providing of the life

stream and thank you Occupy London for providing the space and the time. Disabled women’s right to Occupy!

Please put your name down so we can let you know what we are doing

(with help from Lani Parker and her PA – many many thanks, to Frieda Van de Poll too)

Many thanks to Occupy London and inka stafrace
occupy london  & polly tikkle productions

Disabled Beauty Pageants: Be Careful What You Wish For

Disabled Beauty Pageants: Be Careful What You Wish For

women in long gowns in wheelchairs with banners on them and tiaras

This week I came across an interesting article exploring why we don’t hear about disabled beauty pageants in the UK. Having never heard of them before, I took to Google and quickly discovered Miss Wheelchair America, Miss Amazing and Miss You Can Do It, to name but a few.

Their missions vary from building confidence and encouraging inclusion to providing the opportunity to celebrate achievement. They do have one thing in common: they claim that their focus is not on ‘beauty’ alone. Perfectly admirable you might say. But I can’t help but wonder: if that’s the case, why have the pageant, frock and sparkly tiara at all? Surely, there is a more appropriate forum to celebrate achievements, skills and qualities than a beauty pageant?

One contest particularly celebrates young disabled girls. Many little girls (of which I was one) enjoy dressing up, so I can see the potential joy and fun on offer for these girls. Although my personal contempt for child beauty pageants applies irrespective of disability, I was more alarmed that the Telegraph summarised the disabled pageant as allowing the girls “to be seen as something other than disabled.” What a cruel message.

Turning to the adults, sexuality is a big part of this debate. Miss World began in 1951 as a bikini contest, but added intelligence, personality and talent elements during the 1980s under political pressure. The reason that pageants these days (disabled or otherwise) are at pains to stress that they celebrate stuff of more substance is because they know their days are numbered. If the beauty pageant industry is as progressive, inclusive and enlightened as it proclaims then why are there separate disabled pageants in the marketplace? According to the values of the mainstream pageants, disabled women should find themselves fairly represented as contestants and winners. I, for one, would love to see some data to check that’s the case.

In their niche pageants, I suspect that many of the female disabled contestants, by putting on some slap and parading around in front of the judges, seek to make a bold statement about themselves as sexual beings. Culture associates sex and sexuality with our vision of ‘perfect’ bodies. On that basis, I have to hand it to women with the gumption to literally present themselves for evaluation under the spotlight! However, in the fight to resist the pressure to suppress our sexuality, we must avoid unintentionally demanding to be equally objectified. Why on earth would disabled women demand access to an industry that women (and men) all over the world are calling for an end to?

Ironically, disabled women in the UK are in a privileged position by not being exposed to this old fashioned sexist codswallop. So, on this occasion, I personally will not be pushing for equality!

– by Sarah Rennie

Sarah, Sisters of Frida CIC steering group member, is a director at the Wisdom Factory CIC.  As a former solicitor, her day-to-day research work is not to do with disability matters.  However, Sarah acts as a consultant for select clients on internal equality working groups.  She is based in Birmingham and is a Trustee of the city’s Access Committee.


‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women :UK report

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women :UK report

As Sisters of Frida, we went to meet the Special Rapporteur at Leicester. She has given her report –

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women,  finalizes country mission to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and calls for urgent action to address the accountability deficit and also the adverse impacts of changes in funding and services’

Read the report at the  UN Human Rights website (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14514&LangID=E)

Rashida Manjoo wrote

It is important to recognize that the reduction in the number and quality of specialized services for women does impact health and safety needs of women and children, and further restricts them when considering leaving an abusive home, thus putting them at a heightened risk of re-victimization. Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.

Many of the front-line service providers that I met in all parts of the UK have told me that they face increasing demands for providing more services – including for men, while there are fewer funding opportunities. I was also informed of how additional duties undertaken by third sector organizations, such as in their involvement in Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC’s) is not accompanied by more government funding, and is thus being undertaken at their own cost.

Furthermore, it was made clear to me how women from black and minority ethnic communities, women belonging to the LGBTI community, and women with disabilities, are further affected by these cutbacks. These women are, for many reasons, often linked to entrenched discriminatory practices in the political, social and economic spheres, and are more likely to depend on benefits and on support from an increasingly under-resourced non-profit sector. Unfortunately, it is precisely the specialized services catering for these women, which are being mostly affected, even more so than the mainstream violence against women and girls services, in many instances.

Much of the report touched on issues that affect disabled women on an intersectional level especially when you consider that many incarcerated women have also serious mental health issues.

It is crucial to recognize that violence against women is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and strongly linked to the social and economic situation of women. Therefore, the intersections between gender-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination that contributes to and exacerbates violence against women should also be taken into consideration when designing and implementing the State’s response.

Considering their higher rates of victimization, the specific experiences and needs of black and minority ethnic women and girls who have experienced violence, need to be acknowledged. Specific taskforces or working groups, with representation from these communities, should be set up to ensure effective policy and programming around violence against them.


Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.

Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx



UK CEDAW Working Group submission to CRPD general discussion on women and girls with disabilities

UK CEDAW Working Group submission to CRPD general discussion on women and girls with disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has announced that it will be holding a half day of general discussion on women and girls with disabilities at its upcoming session in April 2013. The discussion will take place on 17 April from 12 – 6pm. The Committee welcomes written submissions from civil society, particularly from DPOs, on strengthening the protection of human rights of women and girls with disabilities. Submissions should not exceed 10 pages and should be sent in word format no later than 17 February 2013 to crpd@ohchr.org. For further details please visit the Committee’s website where information is available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

(the deadline has been extended to 31st March)

Below is a submission from the UK CEDAW Working Group on behalf of Sisters of Frida for the CRPD general discussion on women and girls with disabilities on April 17th 2013. (with thanks to Charlotte Gage for getting it out in time)


Most States lack a specific and comprehensive law, policy or programme on persons with disabilities in general or on women with disabilities in particular. States that do have a disability law often do not specifically address the rights of women with disabilities. States may also have a specific law on violence against women that generally provides remedies for all women, within a non-discriminatory framework, but unfortunately, such laws are not effectively implemented in respect of women with disabilities. Very few States have established dedicated institutional mechanisms, programmes or strategies such as national committees or councils on women and disabilities.The United Kingdom (UK) is no exception.

The UK says that it uses the social model of disability which recognises that disability arises from society’s negative responses to us, inaccessible environments, discrimination and disablism. However, the UK definition of disability is not compliant with the CRPD. Disability is not an inevitable consequence of impairments and equality is possible and can be achieved through removing the barriers to social inclusion. This report demonstrates that the statistics fail to recognise that disabled people are not a homogenous group and include disabled women as well as men. This is partly due to a general lack of data disaggregated from a gender and disability perspective. Disabled women’s needs are often excluded in the mainstream Disability Movement as well as the Women’s Movement, and wider government policy, which explains the lack of both qualitative and quantitative data specifically about disabled women in all the areas discussed below. Disabled women often remain invisible in mainstream legislation/policy for women and disabled women’s issues are still under-researched, and their concerns are overlooked….

Download the whole report (MS Word doc):

 UK CEDAW Working Group submission_disabled women_2013

note: We would like to acknowledge contributions to this report from Armineh Soorenian, Debbie Jolly, Eleanor Firman, Ellen Clifford, and Eleanor Lisney

Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences

Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences

You can download this important paper from Social Science Research Network

Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences

Stephanie Ortoleva

Women Enabled

Hope Lewis

Northeastern University – School of Law

August 21, 2012

Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 104-2012
This report, prepared by scholars and human rights advocates who are members of the Working Group on Violence against Women with Disabilities, focuses on the prevalence and pervasiveness of violence against women and girls with disabilities. The Working Group recognizes the need to ensure that women and girls with disabilities are included as full participants in data-gathering, analysis, and proposed solutions as the mandates of Ms. Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, and Mr. Shuaib Chalklen, the Special Rapporteur on Disability, move forward. Additionally, the Working Group calls on international organizations, especially those focused on women’s rights such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women (which will consider as its priority thematic issue violence against women at its 57th session in March 2013) and UN Women, and the international community, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to join us in the effort to highlight these critical issues.

Because women with disabilities make up a significant part of the world’s population, principles of fairness and equality require that the world engage in a vigorous discussion on how to end violence against them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (WB), more than one billion people (approximately 15% of the world’s population) live with some form of disability.

Significantly, for the World Bank and World Health Organization disability level threshold of 40, which includes those experiencing significant difficulties in their everyday lives for both low income and high income countries, the male disability prevalence rate is 12 with standard error .18 and the female disability prevalence rate is 19.2 with standard error .19. Based on these figures, it is clear that women with disabilities constitute a significant portion of the global population and that the pervasive violence against women with disabilities must be addressed. The 2011 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women focused on the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that contribute to and exacerbate violence against women, noting that factors such as ability, age, access to resources, race/ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and class can exacerbate the violence women experience. Although women with disabilities experience many of the same forms of violence all women experience, when gender and disability intersect, violence takes on unique forms, has unique causes, and results in unique consequences. Further, women with disabilities who are also people of color or members of minority or indigenous peoples, or who are lesbian, trans-gender or intersex or who live in poverty, can be subject to particularized forms of violence and discrimination. These intersections must be explored in greater depth to ensure that the complexities of violence against women with disabilities are properly understood and addressed.


Number of Pages in PDF File: 229

Keywords: violence against women, disabilities

Being a torch bearer : mixed feelings and intersections

Being a torch bearer : mixed feelings and intersections

Charlotte of the Women’s Resource Centre asked me to write a blog about being a torch bearer for this year’s Olympics 2012. What does it mean to me? To be honest, I am not sure. It’s a great honour and I never expected to be chosen.

At the moment I am too busy to think about the event itself, but I think I can say I am curious by the fact that my nominee proclaimed me to be ‘humble and unassuming’, luckily she didnt say quiet. I do what I do because I am fired up by other people and a passion to highlight social injustice – such as domestic violence faced by disabled women and how it is more difficult for us to deal with it with the extra barriers and impairments with support needs. I spoke about this with my good friend, Michelle Daley at the Million Women Rise March in 2010 at Trafalgar Sq and as a member of the CEDAW working group at the Women’s Resource Centre.

It seems to me that it’s more important that I would be carrying the torch for honouring the organisations I am involved in locally and nationally. To represent disabled people/women play a part in the achievements of all that the Olympics stand for. According to my social networks at present, the Olympics is now morphed into a different event altogether as it looms closer with all the security measures and financial costs coming to light.

chinese calligraphy family name 'Tao'

I think a part of me want to celebrate the incongruity of me, an emigrant of immigrant parents, being a torch bearer here in the UK. My parents do not understand any of the campaigning work I do, but they know what the Olympics stand for. They are proud of me, their disabled daughter. And I am glad that I can give them that by doing this. I was never able to attend PE lessons when I was at school. Though I am not a Paralympian, I still can be a part of it somehow.

I’ve just had a little discussion tonight and a small throw away remark of not going for tokenism caught me on the quick. In everything I do, I am scrupulous about being inclusive and sometimes it means that you don’t belong truly to any specific group entirely. I put this question to the panel at the NUJ Black Members Council AGM last weekend: how do you interweave the different equality strands when they are present in your identity? It is difficult to present the complexity in having multiple identities. How do you represent each identity and identify yourself as such without losing the other? As a BME disabled woman, I want to carry the flame for the diversity in me. 

I was told that being a torch bearer is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope my being one here in Coventry will enable disabled BME women to feel included in this event!

– Eleanor Thoe Lisney

Economic Austerity or Justification for Denying Disabled Women’s Independence?

Economic Austerity or Justification for Denying Disabled Women’s Independence?

This report has been updated on 13th May 2012

Many thanks to Dr Armineh Soorenian for this report

Economic Austerity or Justification for Denying Disabled Women’s Independence?


Since May 2010, the Coalition Government has introduced ‘Reform of Welfare Provisions’ – a large-scale comprehensive spending review, proposing substantial cuts in public spending scheduled to take place over the next three years.  The current paper recognises that due to these cuts, disabled women are disproportionally affected (Willitts, 2010).  On this account, the Home Secretary, Theresa May warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that cuts imposed in the June 2010 Emergency Budget may be in breach of the Equality Act (EA) 2010 (Dodd, 2010).  The adverse effects of the cuts on women, pensioners, minority ethnic groups and disabled people were considered by May to be illegal.  Moreover, the Labour Party’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, Yvette Cooper, highlighted that women will face more than 70 per cent of these cuts; making it more likely that they will lose their jobs.  They will also be hit hardest by cuts in services and welfare benefits (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  This paper identifies some of the key disability and gender discriminatory issues experienced by disabled women in Britain.  The current work has been supported by secondary evidence and data, both quantitative and qualitative, obtained through previous research, and demonstrates how disabled women are disproportionally disadvantaged by the austerity measures implemented by the current Government.

Prior to 1995, there was a clear lack of anti-discriminatory legislation to protect disabled people in the United Kingdom (UK).  Since this time, subsequent UK governments have developed policies aimed at addressing barriers to mainstream living for disabled people; with the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) marking a significant step in this direction.  In addition to the DDA, from 1976, gender equality legislation (including the first Sex Equality Act) has been on the statutes.  The 2006 EA (EA, 2006) introduced the public sector duty to promote gender equality and develop gender equality schemes.  Thereby, public organisations were required to identify gender equality objectives and document how these were achieved.  Subsequently, in the public sector, the EA, which came into force in October 2010 (EA, 2010), replaces, “harmonises and in some respects extends” (Government Equalities Office and Equality and Diversity Forum, 2010: 3) the existing anti-discrimination laws for race, disability and gender.  The EA allows “measures to be targeted at women, for example to enable them to gain employment or access health services” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 37).  The Equality Duty then requires public bodies to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment because of gender, as well as other conduct unlawful under the EA; to promote equality of opportunity and foster good relations between men and women (CEDAW report, 2011).

Irrespective of gender, disabled people on the whole, encounter countless barriers and discrimination in their daily lives.  Seventy-five per cent of disabled women and 70 per cent of disabled men are already at the bottom end of Britain’s income distribution scale, left to live in poverty (DPAC, 2010b).  Disabled women experience dual discrimination because of their statuses as ‘disabled’ and ‘women’.  The situation is even worse for disabled women from minority groups such as older women and those belonging to minority ethnic groups.  In reference to disabled people at large, as Goodley and Roets (2008: 240) argue, it may be politically productive to address disabled people “as a heterogeneous group, with many ‘impair-ments’ (and other) labels who face a number of overlapping experiences of exclusion”.  Yet, as demonstrated in this report, the statistics fail to recognise that disabled people are not a homogenous group and include disabled women as well as men.  This is partly due to a general lack of data disaggregated from a gender and disability perspective.  Additionally, disabled women often remain invisible in mainstream legislation/policy for women.  Disabled women’s issues are still under-researched, and their concerns are overlooked in the area of dominate policy.  Therefore, disabled women’s needs are often excluded in the mainstream Disability Movement as well as the Women’s Movement (Keogh, 2012), which explains the lack of both qualitative and quantitative data specifically about disabled women in all the areas discussed below.

There are over ten million disabled adults (age 16+) in the UK (including limiting long standing illnesses) – an equivalent to 24 per cent of the adult population on the whole (Papworth Trust, 2011).  Nearly eight million people, or 20 per cent of the working age population (between ages of 16-64) in the UK have a ‘disability’ – 54 per cent of people in this group are economically active (4.3 million); 46 per cent are economically inactive (3.7 million) (Papworth Trust, 2011).

Health and Social Care

Disabled people make up around 1/3 of the NHS users in Britain (Papworth trust, 2011).  Certain health problems particularly impact women.  For instance, women are two and a half times more likely than men to experience anxiety and depression (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  Although the UK Government has “made clear its intention to create a new approach to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 180); disabled women face a number of obstacles in the area of health and social care.  This includes inaccessible health centres and facilities, and lack of information related to their health (International Network of Women with Disabilities, 2012).  The NHS’s procedures and practices are considered to be designed for patients who are ill but not disabled (Bailey, 2012).  The medical professionals’ poor attitude, particularly towards disabled women’s sexual and reproductive health, can also pose another barrier to using the medical services (Sen et al., 2007).  This is often exaggerated by inadequate sex education, inhibiting ‘care’ systems and unhelpful healthcare practitioners and services (Liddiard, 2012).  Yet, the Government claims:

Pregnancy offers a unique opportunity to engage women from all sections of society, with the right support through pregnancy and at the start of life being vital for improving life chances and tackling cycles of disadvantage. There is a focus on improving both outcomes for women and babies and women’s experience of care, a priority in the NHS Outcomes Framework for 2011-12. (CEDAW report, 2012: Paragraph 176).

Most health-care providers in and out of institutions seem to have negative attitudes towards pregnant disabled women, providing little or no help for them either before or after becoming pregnant; and even suggest abortion or sterilisation, particularly if the disabled woman is said to have any degree of learning difficulties (Howard & Handy, 2004).  By turning a private, sensitive womanly issue public, the medical staff can absolve themselves of any responsibility in their dealings with pregnancy complications and its ‘intimidating’ consequences.  Like the mother of a young woman with learning difficulties (pregnant with her second child), who broke down in tears as she pleaded with a high court judge to allow her daughter to  be forcibly sterilised ‘for her protection’ (McVeigh, 2011), the families of disabled women may be of a similar attitude but perhaps with differing reasons.  “Many of the parents feel that because they have already exerted so much energy raising a disabled child, they don’t want the burden of raising their children’s children.” (Degener, 1992: 120).  The fundamental message seems to be that a large proportion of disabled women have no right to reproduction.  It is assumed that this is in the ‘best interest’ of both the woman and the unborn child, whereas the underlying reason is that the community remains intolerant of disabled people.  This political and scientific decision, whilst on superficial levels may benefit the state economy, is un-dignifying for disabled women and devalues the life of disabled people and their families: “In short they (disabled people) see prenatal testing and selective abortion as being rooted in and perpetuating the oppression of disabled people.” (Bailey, 1996: 144).  The effects of sexuality-based discrimination on the sexual and reproductive health of disabled Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) women is of equal significance.

In addition, Social Services budgets have been subject to extreme pressure; nearly all Social Services departments have been told to reduce their budgets by 25 per cent (DPAC Project, 2010), which has a knock-on effect to their provision of support services and the amount people need to contribute financially.  Similar to many councils, the Lancashire county council is raising the eligibility threshold for supporting disabled people from ‘moderate’ to ‘substantial’, saving £2.5 million a year for the next two years.  This council also plans to cut spending on personal budgets and ‘home care’ by £12 million over three years; and increase revenue from charging by more than £5.5 million over four years, as two older disabled women’s case in this county illustrated (Admin, 2011).  In short, local authorities all over the country are cutting the amount of ‘care’ funding available, tightening eligibility criteria, and increasing charges for those who are still eligible for ‘care’ to be able to live independently (DPAC, 2010b).

The Disabled People’s Movement has attempted to redefine the meaning of ‘independent’ living.  Rather than implying ‘doing things for yourself’ or being ‘self-sufficient’, disabled people have argued that independence, as autonomy and self-determination, can be achieved by having choice and control over any support needed to lead their daily lives.  This definition has long been at odds with the ways ‘care services’ have traditionally understood ‘independent’ living (Morris, 2011).


Make the medical and health facilities accessible, and train medical professionals to be aware of disability/gender related issues, so that they can be sensitive towards all disabled women’s concerns.  Improving access to mental health services for disabled women must be accomplished by services that respect the right of disabled women to make their own choices, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (International Network of Women with Disabilities, 2012).  Allocate more financial resources to Social Service departments, requiring them to use the interpretations of social model of disability, when assessing disabled people’s support needs for a ‘care package’.

Political and Public Life

Media Representation

Despite the Government’s claims to welcome “media challenge to stereotypes and portrayal of women in a positive manner” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 49); today, in literature, films, commercial and media imagery, specifically disabled women’s positive representations, which could set examples for other disabled women tend to be missing (Scarlet, 2012).  Disabled women have often been represented in a lonely, innocent and pitiful state, as having evil being done to them (Lonsdale, 1990).  She is depicted as unable to hold ‘normal’ friendships/relationships with others, particularly with the opposite sex (Kent, 1987).  Other women appear to be less threatened by her presence in competing for men’s attention, and take the roles of sympathisers (as mothers) towards the disabled woman rather than having healthy friendships with her (Kent, 1987).  To perpetuate these perceptions, very recently, on the 3 April 2012, the British TV company – Channel 4 has broadcast a sensational series called ‘The Undateables’.  “If ‘The Undateables’ seems an offensive title for a show, then that is probably the marketing aim for a TV channel in the quest for audience. Above a patronising voiceover, viewers are told from the opening that they’re about to see a group of ‘extraordinary singletons’ when in fact we see the opposite: six single people who happen to be disabled.” (UK Disabled People’s Council & European Disability Forum, 2012: unpaged).

The media has a significant role to play in the relationship between disabled and non-disabled people.  Despite major efforts by disabled people in favour of integration, or inclusion; reflecting the media portrayals, disabled people are often invisible from the society.  The limited representations of disabled people are mainly un-dignified and subjects of uncomfortable voyeurism as ‘The Undatables’ proved – depicting extraordinary singletons desperate to seduce.

To reinforce disabled people’s exclusion from public life and the prevailing prejudice against then, today in Brittan, disabled people in general are portrayed and falsely labeled in the media as at worst, outright benefit scroungers, and at best social burdens who are unable to contribute to society in any meaningful way (Boffey, 2011).  With such pejorative language, disabled people are accused of being “unsustainable, unproductive or immoral members of their communities” (Jolly, 2011: unpaged).  They are perceived to not be disabled at all, but “profiting from fraudulent benefit claims” (Jolly, 2011: unpaged).

On the contrary, disabled people are not chits or workshy (DPAC, 2010b), but excluded by physical and attitudinal barriers in the work place.  There are currently 1.3 million disabled people in the UK who are available for, and indeed want, to work (Office for National Statistics, 2009).  The societal limitation in creating an accessible work environment with suitable support and adaptations for disabled people – an economic, social and political solution – is overlooked; instead disabled people are blamed for their failure to be economically productive.  Yet, reflecting the media, societal attitudes appear to be of a kind that disabled people must be ‘lazy’ and get ‘something for nothing’ as a ‘Lifestyle Choice’.

The Government expects that the media ought to “abide by the law including laws on discrimination” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 50).  Yet, it was found that incidents of negative language about disabled people like “burden”, “scrounger” and “cheat” in print media had increased over the time; whilst sympathetic’ accounts of disability discrimination had almost disappeared in the tabloid press such as the ‘Mirror’, the ‘Sun’, the ‘Daily Mail’, the ‘Daily Express’, and for balance the ‘Guardian’ (Jolly, 2011: unpaged).  Variations were also found in the way different impairment groups were depicted; those with a physical or sensory impairment were more likely to receive sympathetic treatment from the media than other groups such as people with learning difficulties (Briant et al., 2011).  In short, much of the coverage in the tabloid press is “at best questionable and some of it is deeply offensive” (Briant et al., 2011: 12).  The increased concentration on benefit fraud with outlandish claims that over 70 per cent of people on disability benefits are frauds is an example of this kind of coverage.  These attitudes are fueled and reinforced by the Government’s misleading claims about ‘Disability Living Allowance’ (DLA) and ‘Employment Support Allowance’ (ESA) – by such claims as Iain Duncan Smith’s (MP welfare and pensions’ secretary).  In the ‘Sun’ newspaper in 2011, he implied that disabled people were responsible for the UK deficit (Jolly, 2011).  “… some articles even blaming the recession itself on incapacity benefit claimants …” (Briant et al., 2011: 40).

This stereotyped and victimised image of disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular, does little to help their integration and equal participation in the mainstream society, reducing their visibility as political actors in creating and maintaining human rights and equality.  It negates the gains in social acceptance won by the Disabled People’s Movement over the last few decades (Boffey, 2011).  In relation to PC Rathband’s suicide, Prof Barnes of Centre for Disability Studies at University of Leeds states that in the current climate, negative images and perceptions of disabled people on the whole are mostly informed by stereotypes, which come from wider society and which are perpetuated by the media (Disability Now, 2012).

It is to no surprise then that rise in disability hate crime (discussed in the following sections) has been on increase, which has contributed to a highly inflammatory atmosphere, and is associated with the ideological message of the media strategy on the demonising of disabled people (Jolly, 2011).  After all, it was words such as ‘spastic’, ‘cripple’, ‘scum’, ‘scrounger’ that made Peter Greener (a disabled man who was physically and verbally abused by his neighbours) feel suicidal and on antidepressants.  The climate of fear is certainly working; some disabled people are frightened to leave their homes because of physical threats and accusations of benefit frauds.  Glenelg (2012: unpaged) in an article in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper reports Willits’s (a disabled woman) experience of being verbally abused: “A few months ago, I was followed by a man I had never met before. For the length of the street where I live, he shouted ‘fucking DLA stick!’ at me every few seconds.”


Increase media images of disabled women with diverse backgrounds in positive roles.  Educate media about the discrimination disabled people experience, and encourage them to report the ‘real’ stories.

Economic and Social Benefits

Disabled people are said to have a vision of a welfare state, which through a progressive taxation system would create resources available to have a level playing field to experience the same life opportunities as non- disabled people (Morris, 2012).  The United Nations (UN) Convention – in particular Article 19 – recognises that without such provision, disabled people’s human rights are at risk.  In contrast, the current welfare system assumes that to rely on publicly-funded benefits and services is to be avoided, reserved only for a residual group of ‘deserving’ – the most ‘vulnerable’.  The system assumes that disability benefits/services have been too “generous”, reinforcing unnecessary “dependency” (Morris, 2012: unpaged).  Therefore, disability and income related benefits are being granted under more stringent conditions as well as imposing sanctions in order to incentivise people ‘off welfare and into work’.  Morris (2012: unpaged) refers to the benefit system as “at best paternalistic and at worst punitive”, unable to recognise that some disabled people will always be less able to work, or to work for the same length and earn as much as non-disabled people, regardless of the amount of ‘incentive’, which is provided by cutting benefits.  The recent closure of Remploy (supporting disabled people into mainstream employment), and the struggling economy has also proved to be unhelpful to many disabled people.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2004) reported that disabled people, who receive maximum benefit, experience a shortfall of £200 on a weekly basis compared to the amount required for them to lead a minimum standard of living, and an equal life to that of their non-disabled counter-parts.  Disabled people’s day-to-day living costs, including mobility aids, personal care and transport are 25 per cent higher than those of non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  Yet, a think tank has warned that disabled people will be hit with more than £9 billion (£140 per month) in welfare cuts over the next five years (DEMOS, 2010).

More than 2.5 million people receive ‘Incapacity Benefit’ (IB) (which was for people unable to work because of health or impairment) or ESA (DEMOS, 2010).  Disabled people are gradually being moved from IB to ESA and will have to be re-assessed.  Yet, this benefit is being rolled out on an ongoing basis.  Those deemed fit enough to work are moved on to ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance’ (JSA) instead.  Demos (2010) calculated the impact of moving 500,000 people from IB to JSA would amount to a loss of £4.87 billion, indicating less money for the individual (114,066 disabled people moved from IB and ESA to JSA will lose £994 million, and less one-on-one employment support).  Others are pushed to undertake employment without suitable support and adaptation.  The DEMOS report (2010) indicates that the move will result in more disabled people being trapped in long-term unemployment, costing the taxpayer far more than at present.

This is in addition to the 20 per cent cut to the DLA (this benefit was originally introduced to compensate for the additional costs of being disabled, such as higher heating bills or buying pre-prepared foods) (Marsh, 2011).  Reducing this allowance will restrict disabled people’s freedom to manage their own spending, which contradicts with the Government’s agenda of implementing personal budgets.  The survey by Essex Coalition of Disabled People (2010) found 57 per cent of DLA claimants fear their benefit may be taken away, and 2/3 felt their level of support would be at risk.

The Government’s Welfare Reform Bill will abolish DLA for working age adults (16-64 years of age).  They will need to be reassessed for the new benefit, the ‘Personal Independence Payment’ (PIP).  The planned new PIP will not cover some of the areas the DLA contributes towards, because through its introduction, the Government intends to cut the amount paid out by 20 per cent.  The PIP will have no equivalent low-rate ‘care’ payment, meaning that the 643,000 people receiving this support from DLA are now at risk of losing help (Disability Alliance, 2012).  Many claimants with visual impairment also may lose their higher rate mobility award, which was only recently won after years of campaigning (Dolphin, 2012).  Additionally, the new PIP consultation does not take in extra costs related to being female.  Disabled women have higher costs for ‘personal care’ issues, and thus can be further disadvantaged.  The most obvious corrupt interpretation of the social model of disability is considered to be in the Government’s proposals related to a new assessment framework for the PIP (Morris, 2011).  It does not take a holistic approach or account for ‘motivations’, social and practical as well as physical barriers disabled people face in returning to employment (Wood & Grant, 2010).  The assessments are not necessarily carried out by a medical doctor; 40 per cent of rejected claims go through an appeal with up to 70 per cent of those decisions being overturned (Marsh, 2011).  As the following case illustrates the emotional impact of such intrusive medical assessments are irreversible.  In an article in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper, Butler (2011: unpaged) reports:“Elaine Christian, 57, of Hull, was worried, according to reports of an inquest in July, about a meeting to assess her disability benefits.  She was found drowned in a drain with evidence of ingested painkillers and ten self-inflicted cuts to her wrist.  Although she left a suicide note, an open verdict was recorded.  Her husband told the inquest: ‘She [Elaine] was worried about the assessment, but was never one to complain’.

”People over 65 receiving DLA appear to have avoided this round of cuts.  However, the Welfare Reform Bill does include provisions automatically to end PIP payments at the point when someone retires or turns 65.  This means that people receiving PIP would have to apply for ‘Attendance Allowance’ (AA).  The AA provides no mobility support and, this change could see thousands of older disabled people losing crucial support and the ability to continue living independently (Disability Alliance, 2012).

Moreover, older disabled women’s impairments may significantly affect the quality of their lives (Banks et al., 2006), yet they may not satisfy current DLA criteria for age related reasons (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).  Therefore, with the rising cost of living generally and extra costs of disability particularly, disabled people living on benefits will be further limited (Willitts, 2010).The Government’s aim in introducing the PIP is to cut 20 per cent of DLA costs by 2015-16, a saving of £2.1 billion.  To do so, the Government intends to pay £675 million for a new assessment process to ensure the PIP is not accessed by as many people as DLA.  Yet, the DLA fraud rate is reported to be less than 0.5% (Birch, 2011).  In nearly all of those cases, the ‘fraud’ is actually that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) considers that someone has had, and failed to report, a significant change in circumstances e.g. recovering from a physical injury.

Ministers also plan to stop paying out cash in the form of ‘Independent Living Fund’ (ILF) to help more than 21,000 ‘severely’ disabled people, who live in their own homes.  The fund, set up in 1988, pays (maximum £475 per week) for ‘carers’ and other help so ‘severely’ disabled people can live at home rather than moving into ‘care homes’.  It was announced in June 2011 that the fund was refusing all new claims.  Whether this funding will continue at all is still uncertain.  As the following ILF users demonstrate, the effects of losing ILF are devastating for many disabled people:

As half my care package is ILF I would first have no control over my toilet needs, this may result in me being catheterised. I am not unable to get out of bed or in bed myself, nor can I dress myself. I need support in all personal care needs, including keeping clean etc. I would not be able to attend any meetings when various government and NGOs ask me to be part of their various consultation plans. I would have no control over what time I got up or what time I went to bed therefore I would have no social life whatsoever. When ILF finishes in 2015 I will not have any social life. This will mean I will not be able to visit friends, attend the cinema or theatre, go to my bridge club or attend a primary school to assist children to read. I will no longer be able to use my car for shopping taking my dog to the woods etc. Having campaigned for the last 26 years this will end as I need support to do this. I regularly attend course on photography and employment issues – these will not be possible without ILF funding. (Admin2, 2012: unpaged).

I am a 44 year old digital artist/editor & film maker, a lot of time is spent travelling to locations for shoots, I can’t imagine how I would manage without ILF which funds a third of my care package, to lose such vital funding will probably change my life in a way presently I do not want to think about, however, as the government is pushing this legislation through regardless, I have to consider my position. Ultimately I fear that any real & significant control in my life and how I presently choose to live my life will be significantly curtailed. I know in this present political climate, any changes will be presented to the general public in a way that suggests no ‘significant” change, “the disabled” are worrying needlessly etc, but the reality has to be heard. I will have to make my PA’s redundant, relying on goodwill of friends or volunteers would not be feasible. I would lose control of my life. (Admin2, 2012: unpaged).
I am a 40 year old ex archaeologist, living in busy East London, and it would be impossible to manage if I lost my ILF. This funds 50% of my care package, so the loss of ILF would mean that I would lose my independence. At the moment I live independently and use my ILF to maximise my independence, to access the community, to do voluntary work in three different places. This government has pushed legislation through in a way which challenges human rights. Without ILF I would lose my home and my independence and would be forced to rely on my aged father and sleep on his floor as his house is inaccessible. (Admin2, 2012: unpaged).

In addition, almost 65,000 disabled people (including those with profound mental health issues) are at risk of losing their homes because of a cut in mortgage payment support for vulnerable people, according to the body representing housing associations (Ramesh, 2010).  Around 59,000 disabled people use the benefit to help them pay mortgages on homes they have bought.  A further 5,000 people with profound physical impairments and mental health issues have used the state payments to secure niche mortgages to pay for shared ownership homes – provided by housing associations – through which buyers purchase a fraction, usually more than a quarter, of the property and pay rent on the rest (Ramesh, 2010).  Since many of the claimants would not qualify for the best deals from high street banks, the scheme allows them to access rates which are comparable to those available to people who are not disabled.  Most of those who take up the benefit are first-time buyers with a total household income of less than £60,000.  A sizeable minority are home owners who can show that their houses are no longer suitable for their needs (Ramesh, 2010).  They may have long-term support needs, have a full-time ‘’carer’, or need to live close to a medical centre.  However, this benefit, which pays the interest on a mortgage, is to be reduced from its present value of 6.08% to what the Government says is the Bank of England average mortgage rate of 3.67% – a cut that means a loss of £1,300 annually for every £100,000 borrowed (Ramesh, 2010).

The National Housing Federation commented that at least 64,000 people will be at risk of falling behind on mortgage payments; with those affected struggling to keep up with their payments, falling into arrears and eventually losing their properties (Ramesh, 2010).  Changes to the amounts paid to mortgage interest for disabled claimants have been estimated to potentially lead to an additional 64,000 disabled people becoming homeless.

Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Housing has calculated that the cumulative effects of the Coalition’s proposals mean that by 2020 every tenant’s (both in social housing and in the private sector) ‘Housing Benefit’ (HB) will be too low to cover their rent (Ramesh, 2012).  There are also plans to remove any security of tenure from social housing tenants and to increase rents to 80 per cent of market values.  Together with the caps on HB, this will make renting in the social housing sector unaffordable in many higher priced areas of the country.  Disabled people will only be able to afford to rent in the cheapest properties in an area, which are more than likely to be inaccessible.  This will exaggerate the difficulties disabled people face in finding suitable accommodation to live independently, increase homelessness amongst disabled people and push them further into poverty, especially if DLA recipients are cut by 1/5 as planned by DWP.

From 2013, HB for working age social rented sector customers will be restricted for those who are occupying a larger property than their household size would warrant (DPAC, 2010a).  The 670,000 households – 2/3 containing a disabled family member – will be hit by an average £670 penalty every year, because they are deemed to have a spare bedroom (Orr, 2011).  It means that if one is living in an adapted property (with an extra bedroom), which may have cost thousands of pounds to adapt, but she/he has no apparent need for the extra bedroom, she/he will only get HB paid at the one bedroom rate.  This is something that the Labour Government and DWP tried to introduce in Welfare Reform Bill 2007, but were forced to drop by pressure from Housing Associations (DPAC, 2010a).

Time limiting HB customers who are claiming JSA will only receive their full HB award for a period of 12 months (DPAC, 2010a).  After that their benefit will be reduced by ten per cent, and they will continue to be ineligible for the full out of work HB rate until after they have left the benefit system and been in work for a period.  This needs to be understood in conjunction with the work capability assessment for ESA, which is designed to get as many disabled people as possible off IB and into non-existent jobs, which should be completed by 2013 (DPAC, 2010a).  Therefore, this will affect a large number of disabled people.

Reforms to benefits and services risk leaving disabled people without the support they need to live independently restrictions in local authority eligibility criteria for social care support, the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to housing benefit risk interacting in a particularly harmful way for disabled people. (JCHR, 2012: unpaged).

The DEMOS report (2010) concluded that by 2015, 98,170 single disabled people will lose £127 million.  This finding on its own can force many disabled women to stay in abusive relationships and endure hardship.  This is in addition to cuts to women’s services, cuts to legal aid and police, and cuts to transport and street lighting that offer safety and a lifeline to many women living in refuges and rebuilding their lives after escaping a violent relationship (Harris, 2012).  It can therefore be argued that disabled women are more at risk of domestic abuse if they lose their financial security and houses because of the benefit cuts.  Commenting on these drastic cuts, Richard Whitehurst of DPAC said:

These vicious cuts have already led to at least 31 disabled people committing suicide and many more are now talking about it as they feel they have no future. In the 21st century, in one of the richest nations in the world, disabled people should not be forced to live in fear every day of their lives. (Benefitsclaimantsfightback, 2012: unpaged).

On this account, Radnage (2011) reports a disabled couple, Mark and Helen Mullins, who are said to have killed themselves at their rundown home after being reduced to despair as they struggled to live off just £57.50.  Once a week, Mark told the interviewer for the ‘Guardian’ newspaper, they would undertake a 12-mileround trip on foot to the food kitchen.  The free vegetables they brought back with them to would be made into seven days worth of soup, cooked on a single gas ring set up in the one habitable room in the house in which they lived (Butler, 2011).


Create a fair system which assesses disabled women’s gender and disability specific needs and entitles them to benefits accordingly.  The system must assess disability, housing and income benefit entitlement on a case by case basis, rather than impose a one size fits all model on disabled women.  Simplify the application process to the benefit system.  Most importantly, the system should recognise that disabled people are experts on their needs and the difficulties they face.  The benefits should allow for them to remove the barriers they experience on a daily basis. 

Rural Women

In the area of health and social care, it is reported that the rural local authorities already receive lower funding allocations than urban areas, and therefore are less likely to provide social care at the lower FACS levels: “Through the Personalisation programme disabled women will have to purchase support and care but there are few economies of scale to attract providers in rural areas and higher costs, so the range of services available look set to diminish and cost of purchasing increase.” (Firman, 2012: unpaged).  The negative impact of these cuts on disabled rural women’s health and well-being as well as quality of life is therefore considerable.

In the rural areas, the lack of job centres forces disabled women to travel long distances to begin the search for jobs, which “poses a particularly significant barrier to work and training options for rural disabled women and increased risk exposure if travelling alone.” (Firman, 2012: unpaged).

Additionally, disabled people are more likely to consider public transport as a significant aspect of their mobility (Jolly et al., 2006), and therefore are heavy users of bus and train services, especially in the rural areas.  However, the current public spending cuts are impacting on the local authorities’ ability to support rural bus services (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).  With the closure of local post offices and other amenities, this has a greater impact on disabled rural women’s quality of life (Firman, 2012).

Whilst the UK Government claims to be “keen to promote a range of transport solutions in rural communities, not just rural buses”; in the same paragraph of the CEDAW report, it is suggested that the Government “gives local authorities the freedom to make the right decisions for their own communities and to assist local authorities to produce their Local Transport Plans.” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 216).

As the ‘Campaign for Better Transport’ research (2011) indicates overall 70 per cent of the local authorities in England plan major cuts in bus services (Disability Alliance, 2011).  This will restrict specifically disabled women’s participation in mainstream life including political and cultural activities as well as their access to health services and education.  The spending cuts of more than 40 per cent by the Department for Transport, will also lead to the loss of well-trained staff on the transport network who promote independent living by supporting disabled people in their travels (Peck, 2012), further isolating disabled people from mainstream life.

For disabled people, the alternative option to using public transport is to use private means of transportation.  Estimated number of valid Blue Badge holders on 31 March 2010 was 2.55 million (Papworth trust, 2011).  Yet, as Glenelg (2012) writes, when driving their private cars, disabled people are constantly scrutinised, needing to justify using their blue badge in public parking spaces.  Glenelg (2012: unpaged) reports the following disabled person’s account in an article in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper: “In the early days of my blue badge ownership, I was often glared at disapprovingly. I’d simply smile weakly and say I had multiple sclerosis. Most times that was enough, though once a burly aggressive gentleman spat out disparagingly ‘you’re a liar. You can’t have that because they’re all in wheelchairs’.”


Increase accessibility in public transport, and train bus/train staff to assist disabled travellers. 

Disability Hate Crime and Equality Before the Law

Disabled people are significantly more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled people.  This gap is largest among 16-34 year-olds, where 38 per cent of disabled people reported they were a victim of crime compared to 30 per cent of non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  More than 20 per cent of disabled people have experienced harassment in public because of their impairment.  Harassment is the most common crime experienced by disabled people, followed by verbal abuse outside homes and repeat burglaries.  Sixty-six per cent of people with a learning disability have been bullied regularly with 32 per cent stating that bullying was taking place on a daily or weekly basis (Papworth trust, 2011).

Furthermore, as James Watts’s case (CPS, 2009) illustrated, disabled women’s abuse in the ‘safe environment’ of their ‘care homes’ is prevalent.  Watts, a driver for a ‘care home’ for ‘severely disabled adults’ was charged with “four counts of sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder … and two counts of sexual assault” (CPS, 2009: unpaged).  To facilitate communication in court, an intermediary – a skilled professional – was involved to take evidence from the disabled women victims, who had cognitive and speech impairments.

The financial dependency of disabled women, particularly, on their families may result in living arrangements that subject them to different forms of abuse, including mental, physical and sexual violence (Thiara et al., 2011).  The lack of accessible information and support for disabled women can prevent them from accessing social housing and shelter if a woman’s domestic living environment becomes unbearable.  In some cases, the police officers are said to be inadequately trained both in terms of professional and personal attitude and approach to know how to deal with disabled victims in general.  More specifically, “… the needs of disabled women who are victims of violence have been neglected at all levels.” (Levy, 2012: unpaged).Fiona Pilkington’s case in October 2007 (Sturcke, 2010) demonstrated the influence of negative media portrayals, and the wide spread incidences of hate crime in disabled people and their families’ lives.  Pilkington killed herself and her daughter Frankie, who had learning difficulties, following a hate campaign by local youths in the Leicestershire area.  The campaign targeted Frankie’s learning disability, leading to this tragedy.  Local police recorded Ms Pilkington’s complaints as evidence of anti-social behaviour, not as an on-going hate crime concern and ‘cry for help’.  Sturcke (2010: unpaged) notes that “the jury blamed poor sharing of information between the police and councils for contributing to the deaths, but also noted Pilkington had neither ‘sought nor accepted’ help on occasions”.

On this account, disabled people are less likely than their non-disabled peers to think the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is fair (54 per cent as opposed to 61 per cent of non-disabled people).  This gap is largest amongst 16-34 year-olds, where 49 per cent of disabled people think that the CJS is fair compared to 65 per cent of non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  Disabled people’s access to justice system is also reported to be restricted due to access and attitudinal barriers (Ortoleva, 2011).  Additionally, research (Ortoleva, 2011) has shown that a woman’s status as a witness, or her evidence, is accorded less respect/weight than that of a man.  When a disabled woman’s legal capacity is limited in this way, she is denied of her rights to be equal with men and also to report and address disability/gender-based violence.  Yet, the Government claims to have provided £127,424 to the Judicial Studies Board (JSB) in December 2010, so that it could deliver tailored training on the EA.  “The funding provided four one-day non-residential training seminars for 180 judges who are likely to hear discrimination cases brought under the Equality Act.” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 226).

Gemma Hayter’s case (Carter, 2011), a woman with learning disabilities who was viciously beaten by five so-called friends, led to a railway embankment and forced to drink urine before being stripped and left to die is another tragic story of similar disability/gender specific abuse.  Another such case is that of Christine Lakinski (Disability Now, 2008), who collapsed near her home in 2007 in Hartlepool.  Instead of helping her, her neighbour, Antony Anderson urinated over her as she lay dying, whilst he encouraged a friend to film the event.  Yet, this incident was not treated as crime, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stated: “Defendant claimed that he thought that the victim was drunk or on drugs and there was no evidence to suggest that the defendant knew she was disabled”.  However, they were neighbours and she had a visible impairment.

In addition, the situation is worsened in some English counties, which have removed all funding to rape crisis and domestic abuse refuge services (UK Joint Committee on Women, 2011).  The police and CPS are facing budget cuts; the voluntary organisations fear that the support available to victims and survivors of violence may be reduced (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  Due to extremely limited resources, most disability organisations do not offer any specific services on domestic violence either (Thiara et al., 2011).  Yet, the UK Government is said to provide “grant funding of up to £3.5 million annually, for the next three years, to support rape crisis centres.” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 281).  Although the UK Government claims to have invested in support and protection for victims in the CJS with such measures as “the establishment of a network of Independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors to provide support for victims of domestic violence and rape cases” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 269); the particular concerns of disabled women victims seen to have remained invisible.

Despite the new Strategic Vision of Department for International Development (DfID) to support “survivors of violence to seek legal redress” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 231); it is reported that in cities such as Coventry, the legal aid will be cut for welfare benefits, education and medical negligence advice, and severely reduced for debt, employment, family law, housing and immigration advice (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  These negative changes on women’s lives generally, and disabled women’s specifically, which can lead to breaches of their human rights include the following two pertinent points:

  • removal of advice on complex welfare benefits issues, housing issues and immigration issues
  • removal of legal aid for women in violent relationships
    (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).

Therefore, disability charities and Justice Select Committee MP’s have further argued that the Government’s plans to cut civil legal aid for welfare benefits, unemployment tribunals and debt advice will make it difficult for disabled people to appeal a decision about their benefits (Inclusion London, 2011; Commons Select Committee, 2011).


Make the information on help for disabled women who are victim to any form of abuse available in different formats and languages.  Increase the number of accessible domestic abuse refuge services.  Make the justice system accessible to people with a range of impairments and backgrounds.

Education and training
It is reported that 23 per cent of disabled people have no qualifications compared with nine per cent of non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  Adults with impairments are twice as likely to say their education opportunities are limited (17 per cent) compared with adults without impairments (nine per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011).In addition, disabled women’s life time earnings are on average lower than non-disabled men’s (Papworth trust, 2011), which may mean it is more difficult for women to meet the increased costs of studying.  Cuts to further and higher education may also prevent women obtaining educational qualifications, due to increased fees for higher education (HE) and reduced support for further education (FE), particularly for disabled women, who have additional support costs.  Consequently, women who are unable to obtain educational qualifications resulting from increased fees and reduced disability support may see their earning potential and job opportunities further decreased (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).Moreover, there is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that in the British context, disabled students experience discrimination in HE, due to barriers such as inaccessible information and physical structures, as well as lack of funding and support (Collinson et al., 2011; Farrar, 2007; Soorenian, 2008).  Non-disabled people are twice as likely to have studied at HE than disabled people (Grewal et al., 2002).  Eleven per cent of working age disabled people hold a degree-level qualification compared to 22 per cent of working age non-disabled people (DWP, 2008b).  In 2009-10, of the 959,060 people, who entered into HE, only seven per cent were disabled learners (Papworth trust, 2011).  It is predicted that by 2020, 42 per cent of jobs will require a degree level qualification or above.  Hence, there is a strong correlation between low skills and unemployment (Papworth trust, 2011).

As a result, disabled people experience more discrimination in everyday life generally, and in the job market specifically.  As far back as 1991, Boylan argued that even though disabled women are deprived from the same standard of education as disabled men, when disabled women succeed in achieving high qualifications their prospects for finding desirable jobs remain limited.  Consequently, many disabled women are economically weak and dependent on others (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).  A limited, or indeed complete lack of education, can have a negative impact on disabled women in later life.  Older disabled women from ethnic minority communities, for example, often have limited access to training and employment options through online resources mostly due to the poor formal education received (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).


Create inclusive education practices, both at school and at university level. 

Education and training

It is reported that 23 per cent of disabled people have no qualifications compared with nine per cent of non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  Adults with impairments are twice as likely to say their education opportunities are limited (17 per cent) compared with adults without impairments (nine per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011).

In addition, disabled women’s life time earnings are on average lower than non-disabled men’s (Papworth trust, 2011), which may mean it is more difficult for women to meet the increased costs of studying.  Cuts to further and higher education may also prevent women obtaining educational qualifications, due to increased fees for higher education (HE) and reduced support for further education (FE), particularly for disabled women, who have additional support costs.  Consequently, women who are unable to obtain educational qualifications resulting from increased fees and reduced disability support may see their earning potential and job opportunities further decreased (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).

Moreover, there is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that in the British context, disabled students experience discrimination in HE, due to barriers such as inaccessible information and physical structures, as well as lack of funding and support (Collinson et al., 2011; Farrar, 2007; Soorenian, 2008).  Non-disabled people are twice as likely to have studied at HE than disabled people (Grewal et al., 2002).  Eleven per cent of working age disabled people hold a degree-level qualification compared to 22 per cent of working age non-disabled people (DWP, 2008b).  In 2009-10, of the 959,060 people, who entered into HE, only seven per cent were disabled learners (Papworth trust, 2011).  It is predicted that by 2020, 42 per cent of jobs will require a degree level qualification or above.  Hence, there is a strong correlation between low skills and unemployment (Papworth trust, 2011).

As a result, disabled people experience more discrimination in everyday life generally, and in the job market specifically.  As far back as 1991, Boylan argued that even though disabled women are deprived from the same standard of education as disabled men, when disabled women succeed in achieving high qualifications their prospects for finding desirable jobs remain limited.  Consequently, many disabled women are economically weak and dependent on others (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).  A limited, or indeed complete lack of education, can have a negative impact on disabled women in later life.  Older disabled women from ethnic minority communities, for example, often have limited access to training and employment options through online resources mostly due to the poor formal education received (Shadow Report: Older Women’s Rights in the United Kingdom, 2011).


Create inclusive education practices, both at school and at university level.


Disabled people’s social mobility is said to be on a sharp decline (Wood et al., 2011).  The employment rates of disabled people are around 48 per cent, compared with around 78 per cent of non-disabled people (DWP, 2011).  Due to factors such as a lack of job opportunities, inaccessible transport, employer prejudice and barriers or family responsibilities, 56 per cent of adults with impairments face restrictions in the paid work they can undertake compared with 26 per cent of adults without impairments (Office for National Statistics, 2011).  Without recognising the difficulties that disabled lone parents may face when returning to work, the UK Government announced in June 2010 that “it expects lone parents to look for work when their youngest child goes to school” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 161).  Thus disabled people are significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people (Papworth trust, 2011).  In 2008, 19 per cent of disabled people experienced unfair treatment at work compared to 13 per cent of non-disabled people (DWP, 2008a).  The average gross hourly pay for disabled employees, for example, is £11.08 compared to £12.30 for non-disabled employees (Office for National Statistics, 2009).

Furthermore, disabled women are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled women and suffer widespread discrimination (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  Despite the Government’s claim to have introduced “reforms to remove barriers to work” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 159); disabled women are said to experience extreme levels of exclusion and more discrimination in the search of a suitable job in the workplace, from colleagues and employers, based on sexist and disablist attitudes.  As is the case with many other areas, in theory disabled women are said to have equal opportunities in the labour market.  In practise the situation is often very different: for instance, a tenth of disabled women have incomes below £31 per week compared with a tenth of disabled men, who have incomes below £59 per week (DPAC, 2010b).  Additionally, as Papworth trust (2011) reports the pay gap between disabled women and non-disabled men is large at 22 per cent.  This is despite the Government’s attempts to “address the ongoing challenge of the gender pay …” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 162).

Women’s roles are often linked to their duties as homemakers; when a disabled woman is seen as unable to fulfil her home-related duties, society further devalues her (International Network of Women with Disabilities, 2012), including in the job market.  Disabled women are perceived as belonging to the ‘corner’ of the house and incapable of being economically productive: “Just because a woman is confined to a wheelchair, it is commonly assumed that she is best at work with her hands.” (Boylan, 1991: 31).  This then affects the quality of disabled women’s lives, being unable to have stimulating, satisfactory and independent life opportunities.

Disabled women, generally, receive an insufficient amount of vocational rehabilitation (this is noted by Boylan [1991] to be a male-orientated service) after acquiring an impairment.  As well as facing the possibility of exploitation by their employers, as the following case study in Sutherland (1981: 34) indicated disabled women are often denied adaptation and support to be able to have an equal access to employment as non-disabled people in general, and disabled men specifically.  Maggie Woolley: “If I was to marry a deaf man, he could get the hearing aid, he wanted free because of his work but my work isn’t important enough, I find that really heavy discrimination.”

Reflecting this statement 30 years on, today at the same time as the Government’s claims to help disabled people back into work, the ‘Access to Work’ funding scheme, which meets the costs to employers of any reasonable adjustments needed in a workplace, has been slashed (Bott, 2011).  In general, 95 per cent of employers employ 20 or less people and thus are unlikely to pay for the many items that employers are expected to contribute to or pay the full cost of with the ‘Access to Work’ cutbacks.  The eligibility criteria for this benefit has been changing and tightening since 2010.  In general, current reforms to unemployment benefits, and the delivery of the ‘Work Programme’, scrutinise disabled individuals’ motivation and attitude (Morris, 2012).

These reforms are imposed on disabled people, who are not assumed to be experts in their needs and barriers or in how to address either. Far from being in control over how to use resources, disabled people are told to do (including unpaid work for unlimited periods). (Morris, 2012: unpaged).

Employment rates vary greatly according to the type of impairment a person has (Office for National Statistics, 2009), and are particularly poor for those with learning disabilities (less than one in five) (Papworth trust, 2011).  Only 15 per cent of people with Autism, and 35 per cent of those with mental health issues are in employment (DPAC, 2010b).  Furthermore, as the following case study in Brown (1988: 36) indicated women with learning difficulties are marginalised to a deeper level in the working environment simply because of their difficulties in memorising and understanding: “Other employees were kind to me at first, but rapidly grew impatient as I constantly asked questions.  I couldn’t memorize the prices, despite studying the menu during breaks …”  This may even continue today, where people with learning difficulties have no choice other than to work in segregated workshops doing routine jobs.  However, this would require further research.

Additionally, budget cuts are leading to public sector job losses; in Coventry alone, women are the majority of workers throughout the public sector (Stephenson & Harrison, 2011).  This discussion explains why disabled women’s careers choices are limited compared to non-disabled or even disabled men, and also why disabled women are often within the poorest group in society.  The implications are that disabled women have to depend on state benefit and friend/family charity.  Unfortunately, sometimes this means that they tolerate violent living conditions in order to ensure a minimum level of survival.  Being economically disadvantaged means that disabled women are deprived of accessible and safe housing (particularly in the rural areas), suitable medical-care and are unable to provide fulfilling lifestyles for their children.  Thus both at work and consequently in their disadvantaged lives, they may be exploited, marginalised, powerless and in extreme cases, subjected to violence (Naidu et al., 2005).


Create accessible employment opportunities for disabled women and provide appropriate support and adaptation.  Introduce and expand specific programmes, policies, and facilities geared towards recruitment of disabled people.  


Although the UK Government is said to be ambitious to “end violence against women and girls (VAWG)” (CEDAW report, 2011: Paragraph 251); the current work showed that the barriers encountered by disabled women in all the public areas discussed above were exacerbated by the interplay of their identities as ‘disabled’ and ‘woman’.  On the whole disablism and sexism coexist simultaneously.  Whilst the intersectionality of ‘disability’ and ‘gender’ disadvantages disabled women double-fold in these key spheres, the disproportionate effects of the current public spending cuts will have further negative impact on their human rights.  Restricting eligibility to ‘care’ and closing the ILF, removing financial support for those who leave work because of a health condition or impairment, and removing financial support for disabled people seeking legal aid, infringes on fundamental articles in the CRPD (Bush, 2012).  In addition to these, age, ‘class’, ethnicity, and sexuality similarly can increase or decrease disabled women’s oppression in all the aspects explored here.  As one such marginal group, disabled rural women, for example, are left out of most aspects of mainstream life by not having access to internet, which exacerbates their isolation.  “For women and girls with disabilities, it may actually be more difficult in a rural area to build up a network, keep up relationships and achieve status in the community.” (International Network of Women with Disabilities, 2012: unpaged).

Disabled LBT, Black Minority and Ethnic (BME), and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) women face multiple forms of discrimination when accessing community services and resources.  There are specific problems related to each community concerning the practical access issues as well as the profile and relevance of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) to LGBT, BME and GRT people (Hodgkins & Close, 2011).  Moreover, non-disability community organisations are often unfamiliar with the barriers experienced by disabled people on a daily basis.  As a result, certain communities of disabled women can become isolated and lead insular lives.


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CEDAW shadow report section on Disabled Women (Word Doc of section on Disabled Women for CEDAW shadow report) 147kb